London – Pressure to reduce UK plant downtime is threatening health and safety during maintenance, according to research carried out for organisers of the Maintec exhibition.
The dangerous trend was cited by about a third of respondents in a survey of 176 maintenance engineers and managers ahead of the industrial maintenance and asset management show, which takes place 5-7 March at the NEC, Birmingham.
While health and safety is a big priority for 85% of organisations, with 63% saying is couldn’t be any more important, the study suggests that maintenance professionals are coming under pressure to take risks.
The drive to reduce plant downtime is a key factor with 34% believing this is compromising UK companies’ health and safety in general, and a significant 23%, saying it is an issue in their own companies.
A further 24% believed that maintenance is a source of many accidents because unrealistic time pressures are placed on projects. The recession is also taking its toll, with a more modest 11% arguing that cuts are compromising health and safety.
Meanwhile, 47% of the maintenance engineers studied, noted that maintenance is so hazardouseven without time pressures. This, they said, was because it is often outside the normal routine or involved outside contractors who operate to different standards.
Other hazard factors cited, included the viewpoints that on-site staff lack a health and safety mindset and/or cut corners.
This poor worker attitude to health and safety appears to affect a significant minority, according to the report.
For instance, 21% of those surveyed noted a general perception among employees in their company was that health and safety makes their job harder, 13% saw it as a necessary evil and 5% as a fuss about nothing.
The Maintec study also tried to identify the biggest sources of accidents during maintenance.
According to the maintenance professionals report that the biggest practical risks have been falls from height (51%), disturbing asbestos (47%), heavy falling objects (46%) and failing to follow isolation procedures (45%).
Not briefing external contractors properly was cited as a major health and safety risk for 47%, failing to issue work permits is cited by 50% while 38% said an issue has been simply outside contractors not knowing the operation as well as day-to-day staff.
Despite these challenges, many companies have made some good progress with 36% seeing a decrease in maintenance-related accidents in the past year. However 6% have seen accidents increase and 37% have not seen their record improve.
Whatever their performance, almost all companies have improving health and safety as a priority. Their reasons for doing this are mixed. The top driver was reported as corporate social responsibility, followed by a need to reduce accidents, respond to pressure from the board or improve staff productivity and efficiency.
Unions appear to be exerting limited influence in this area; not a single maintenance professional said unions were the biggest driver for greater health and safety in their organisation, the Maintec report noted.